Young Greek Students on the frontline of Europe's refugee crisis

Extensive daily reports from news agencies are presenting Greece and the great refugee influx. The situation in several islands of the Aegean Sea is tense as thousands of refugees and migrants arrive daily from Turkey. But what is really happening and how are young people addressing the situation?

Alexia Charakida, is a student in the Department of Social Administration and Political Science, in the Democritus University of Thrace, and shares her experience from the island of Samos.

Alexia Charakida.jpg

“I was given the opportunity to travel to the island of Samos and volunteer my services along with other students who were selected to manage the refugee flows on the particular refugee-receiving island. It all started with the initiative of Professor Vasilios Hatzopoulos, the Head of our University Department. The personal acquaintance his has made with the mayor of Samos, Mr Michael Angelopoulos, prompted our subsequent action. Prof. Hatzopoulos asked him whether it would be possible for him to accommodate us, and after the affirmative response, with a small grant from the Property Development and Management Company of the University as well as the provision of complimentary airplane tickets courtesy of Aegean Air, we reached the island. 

When we were chosen to participate in the management of refugee flows, we didn't really know what precisely we were to do. Most of us had a completely different perception of the refugee situation, based on what was reported by the media, and this was a very rough idea of the reality on the island. On arriving in Samos, we realized the overwhelming dimensions the refugee problem had reached as well as how much these people needed our help. Every day, droves of refugees would approach us and other volunteers, in order to ensure some food, clothes and other necessities, Furthermore, many refugees in need of medical help formed long queues outside the clinic.  

Our target as a team was, initially, to help the people who were already working voluntarily on the island, and secondly, to observe the refugees and interact with them. Thus, we discussed with them, and they told us about the situation in their country, their concerns, and their future plans. We participated in setting up a workshop, with the help of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. What also contributed to our getting a complete picture of the refugee situation was both the briefing on this issue by the Municipality of Samos and our collaboration with Non-Profit Organizations. 

What particularly impressed us was the educational background and ethos of these people. They are people with education, knowledge and conduct. We will never forget the countless expressions of gratitude we received every time we gave a glass of milk to their children. One of them moved us with the following words: “We may remain in your country for a little while, but you will remain in our hearts forever.” Unfortunately, we were also present at the suicide attempt of a young girl who couldn't endure the conditions she was going through any more. Every day, boats full of refugees in urgent need of help arrive on the island. 

What is remarkable is the fact that the local people, despite their limited time due to work and family engagements, are attuned to the situation and constantly try to meet the needs of the refugees, offering any help (material or psychological) they can. The most important point, of course, is that they consistently address any emerging problems and they seek immediate and practical solutions, even though the state doesn't provide them with funds. Most food, clothes, and emergency items are obtained exclusively through sponsorships, while the containers where the refugees can stay and be protected from weather conditions are not dispatched promptly. Moreover, the way in which they reach our country is extremely precarious (many casualties and drownings have occurred in the last few months). 

The Greek government must become aware of how critical the situation is and take immediate measures so as to help these people; additionally, it should seek the help of the other European countries towards the refugees' smooth integration in European territory. This is a matter that concerns not only Greece, as a reception country, but all countries, whether European or not. The rights of the refugees are violated to a great extent, so it is advisable that emphasis be given to this problem. Finally, after this experience, we truly learnt what humanity, love, and solidarity mean, and that in such difficult moments we should never forget that we are all brothers.”